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Take Up Your Cross: photo What Does that Look Like?

Take Up Your Cross: photo
What Does that Look Like?

Romans 12:9-21

 Jesus, Son, Savior

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ flood your lives, enabling you to “really” love others!

 

Take up the Cross…but what does that look like?

The words of Jesus we know well, we’ve heard them before, but how often do we think through what they mean?

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.

Turn from our self-centered, self-serving, self-focused needs.  That is a real challenge, especially in a culture that jokes about what it feels to be true.  You know that saying, “It’s all about me”

That’s tough, and God’s law does convict us when we act like life is “all about me.’

But it’s the second and third actions that are required, that make it more challenging.

Taking up a cross?  Which one – the one above the altar – hey no problem.  The one Vicar Chai carried in this morning? It’s kind of heavy – but most people can carry it.  No, it is something far more than that.

Take up the cross, and follow me, Jesus says!

Are you willing? More importantly, are you able?

In order to answer that question, we have to know what does this mean: “take up your cross, and follow Jesus”.

You have to know what it looks like.

That is what the section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome describes, so let’s look there.
What it looks like

Though the description of taking up your cross and following Jesus flows through the entire twelfth chapter, I want to start with verse 11 this morning, for it is the key

11  Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 2 Rejoice in our confident hope.

Now, most of the people here are not even remotely lazy, most work hard.  We commit to serving the Lord enthusiastically. We are confident in the hope we have; that God will be faithful to His promises.  So this bearing the cross thing seems possible, and since we are good people, we can do this!

But those encouraging words are to spur us on to do that which is more challenging….

It goes on,

Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13  When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. 14  Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 

And on….

15  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! 

And on…..

17  Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. 19 Dear friends, never take revenge.

These actions and attitudes are not easy, they are indeed, what it looks like to take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  They sum as well, this idea of love, which started the reading.

9  Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.

No hypocrisy allowed, no “but they did, said, thought,” just really love them….

So how do we “really” love

This is difficult, is it not?   I mean we are supposed to really love our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, those annoying phone solicitors and even our pastor?  Really love them?  Not sure we can do that all the time, Are we sure we can bear that cross. Are we sure we want to bear that cross.

But bear it we must, if we follow Christ, if we are with Christ, if we are in Christ.

For that is what bearing our cross is, it is walking in Christ.  To give up our lives, if that is what it takes, for that is what love led Him to do.

Peter said it well,

21  For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21 (NLT)

This doing good, this bearing one’s cross, this setting aside what benefits us, what makes us happy is what happens when we are being transformed by God.  Remember – that is where the chapter started,

1  And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)

So What happens when we slip and throw a whine party?

These words cause a bit of anxiety.  Because I know that we are not always following Christ. I know we struggle to bear our cross, tossing it aside at times.

So what can we do, when we find ourselves justifying why we shouldn’t love this person, or that one?  When we want to justify tossing the cross aside, because we don’t want to love them, to really love them?  Or we are afraid to, for the pain we might go through.

Jeremiah knew that feeling.  In the Old Testament reading we find it, and God’s response to Jeremiah’s whining,

Jer 15:19  To this the LORD replied, “If you return, I will take you back, and you will be my servant again. If instead of talking nonsense you proclaim a worthwhile message, you will be my prophet again. The people will come back to you, and you will not need to go to them.

When we struggle like Jonah loving Nineveh, or Jeremiah loving the rebellious children of Israel, it is simply that, a struggle.  It is the same struggle Jesus had when he looked at the cross, and realize the shame that carrying it might bring, and that is where we find our answer, on how to love others.

Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3 (NLT)

The struggle for us is not that we can’t love them, it is that we’ve taken our eyes off what Paul told us to do, to 1Rejoice in our confident hope.”

This was Peter’s answer as well, that we should always be ready to have an answer for the reason we have hope.

You want to follow Jesus?  Take up the cross of walking in His love, keeping your eyes on Him.  The cross where He has joined you to Himself, and realize that there, you can see their need for His love, for His mercy, even as you needed it yourself.

This is what it all boils down to, our baptism, our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, our hearing that our sins are forgiven, it is all about God coming to us, uniting us to His cross, bringing us with Him…

Knowing His cross, we cling to that hope, we find the will of God, and a desire to see it come to be, that all would know His love, that all would be ministered to, no matter the sacrifice.

For that is what happens, when we allow God to transform us into people who dwell in is peace, the peace that goes beyond comprehension or explanation.  The very peace that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN?

 

 

What Does the Rich and Satisfying Life in Christ Look Like?

Alleluia! He is Risen! And ThereforeSAMSUNG
We are a community that perseveres

Acts 2:42-47

  In Jesus Name!

The grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ shall build here His family, His community, as we serve in love.  AMEN!

The Purpose of God Revealed

As we travel these weeks of Easter with those who lived in and witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we see the will of God revealed to His people, and we see the will of God revealed in His people.

The message is repeated over and over, as a friend says, “we preach the same thing every week, we just use different words.”  Or in the case of our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning, we see those words describing a picture of God’s people, those He gathered.

The church pictured there is incredible, not because it has the best people, or is the biggest. It is a church that shows the effect of their Resurrection, not just in their words, but in their deeds.

A church with the same purpose as Jesus revealed His purpose to be. A church where the will of the Father is lived out in view of mankind.  They become a picture of what Jesus prophesied about in the gospel, when He said,

“My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

A life portrayed in Acts 2, a life portrayed here in our lives, if we take time enough to look.

A life lived, because Jesus is Risen!  (He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!) and therefore (We have Risen with Him!  Alleluia!

So let’s look at what this abundant, rich and satisfying life looks like, compared to life lived outside of Christ, life lived without the resurrection.

The Before

Mere hours before the Crucifixion, we see a tiny picture of the world in one room.  There are people there, arguing about who is most important to the group after Christ. Another one thinks his holiness is sufficient that he doesn’t need the Lord Jesus to cleanse him, or minister to him.  He will later deny Christ, just like the rest.  Another is ready to betray one he loves, a betrayal so severe that it will wreaks havoc not only with the relationship, but it will end his life, ashamed and desperate for the guilt that overwhelms him. By the end of the evening, all relationships will be broken and shattered as promises fail, as they abandon Jesus.

Sin seemed to reign over them, even in the midst of the very first Communion service. Even in the presence of God, as Jesus was there, washing their feet, teaching, breaking the bread, giving them the cup.

It was life, well life that was neither rich, nor satisfying, if we think about it.

It was a life that needed something…

Just like our lives, when they are lived outside of Christ need something. For the broken relationships we see at the last supper, and in the garden are what we encounter in our lives.  Sometimes the arguments, the superior attitudes, the betrayals and denials, the shame and the grief are all we see in our lives.

The After

Less than two months later, the same group gathers, the men from the upper room now leading a group of thousands, but a group that is so radically different, than you know something has happened.

For it is true, Praise God, He has Risen!  (He has Risen indeed) and therefore…. ( We have Risen with Him!  Alleluia!)

How else can you describe a group that acts like these people do, when 50 days before they were acting like jerks?

Look at the change described in verses 44, look at how they loved each other…

44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.

That seems like a pretty incredible group – worshipping together daily, sharing in the Lord’s Supper, not just in church together, but in each other’s homes.  They even helped each other financially, the word there for need was “in debt”.  They shared in meals, they shared in each other’s lives, they shared in everything….

This wasn’t because of being commanded to, it was a matter of desire, of volition, it’s what happens to people when they become part of God’s family.

They could, because when Jesus Christ rose from the dead, they were raised from the dead with Him.

Just as we have risen with Him, alleluia?  O come on – that means to praise God, not just too sort of compliment him.  We have risen with Christ! Alleluia!

How?

Living in Christ, our lives focused on Him, walking with Him, is where this transformation happens.  It is the reason we do the things in verse 42, for in each of these we encounter Christ, we learn of His love.  Which is why they were devoted to it, together,  Let’s look…

That’s what the apostles’ teaching, or as older translations put it, “the apostles’ doctrine” is all about.  The fact that Christ was born of Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died, rose, ascended and will judge the quick and the dead.  Those words sound familiar, because that is our Creed – it is what we believe.  It is what the apostles handed down to us. And so they were devoted to this together, because Jesus had given them the words of life.

They devoted themselves as well to fellowship, to being a community together, not just to being a bunch of individuals who each looked after #1.  How well this shows the work of the Holy Spirit in them!  How it testifies to the love of Jesus working in their lives.  It is who they are in Christ, It is who we are!

They shared in meals, especially the Lord’s Supper!  The purest, most basic form of fellowship, sharing in the blessings of God as we take and eat, and take and drink the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  For in this meal, in the simplicity, we come to know the blessings of God, we begin to understand that He died on the cross for each one of us. We begin to know the depth of His love! The intimate relationship that God has called us into, which is seen in communion, is one that we are called into together.  The church devoted itself to this practice, as have we.

The picture of God reconciling us to Himself that in the sacraments is so clear! These sacred times of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and private Confession and Absolution/ Cleansing.  We remember our baptism daily, Luther reminds us, and we commune frequently, for there are many among us who need this blessing.. indeed we all need it.  Finally, who of us doesn’t need to hear the words, “your sins are forgiven, by the authority of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!”

How precious is this grace of God given us, in the Apostles teaching in scripture and the sacraments!  Because they communicate to us that He is Risen! And therefore….

The last thing they engaged in, as Christ engages them, is prayer.  The laying of all burdens down before God, of knowing and trusting in God so that we keep nothing back.  That is why Phillip Melanchthon, one of Luther’s most gifted friends and students includes prayer among the sacraments in the Apology of the Augsburg confession,  saying,

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.

Praying together, knowing those burdens are taken, that we can release them to Him and that He will provide us peace, the life that is complete and rich and satisfying.  A life in which that peace of God is ours, our hearts and minds secured in that peace by Jesus Christ.  AMEN?

The Need for Spiritual Discipline/Formation/Growth

May you realize that you live in God’s Kingdom, and desire greatly to see its beauty!

I am on the road this morning, with a friend as he begins his journey towards being ordained into the ministry.  During the journey by planes, (although it seemed we walked nearly that far!) I came across this in my reading.

It is quite common to find, even among apparently responsible and devout Catholics, the error of thinking that they’re only obliged to carry out their familial and religious duties. They seldom want to hear any mention of civic duties. The problem is not selfishness; it’s simply a lack of formation.”    de Prada, Andres Vazquez (2011-04-18). The Founder of Opus Dei: Volume III, The Divine Ways on Earth (The Life of Josemaria Escriva) (Kindle Locations 9415-9417). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It started my mind wandering on this idea of formation.  Surely there is a great benefit to the normal route of ordination, and in the “alternate” routes which are simply adaptations of the norm.  There are a few differences as well between my friends over on the other side of the Tiber, and those of us who are Lutherans.

But Spiritual Formation is, in my opinion, critical, and in these days, critically overlooked.  It’s been that way for a while.  Hear the writer of Hebrews comment:

5:11 There is much we have to say about this matter, but it is hard to explain to you, because you are so slow to understand. 12 There has been enough time for you to be teachers—yet you still need someone to teach you the first lessons of God’s message. Instead of eating solid food, you still have to drink milk. 13 Anyone who has to drink milk is still a child, without any experience in the matter of right and wrong. 14 Solid food, on the other hand, is for adults, who through practice are able to distinguish between good and evil.
Hebrews 5:11-14 (TEV) 

We see it there as well – as the author notes the inability of these people to get their butts of their spiritual couches and serve (by teaching) others.  Instead the would rather take it easy, and simply re-digest the same simplistic lessons.  They should be able to share the incredible blessings they have received, the basics of their faith.  Yet… they can’t

I love the comment by Escriva’s position on this – it isn’t because they are weak, selfish, and self-centered!  It is because they haven’t been formed.  They haven’t been discipled.  The very things that they need to learn, need to be shared, modeled.  The depth of God’s love isn’t just “He saved me from my sins”, it is an incredible thing, long planned out – every step taken toward the cross, and away from the empty grave.

And the deeper you go, not into academia, but into living in that grace, rejoicing in it, seeing it revealed to you in the words of scripture, being comforted in prayer, even in things like making sacrifices, little ones for sure, in order that others may see God.  As we live in Christ, as we are clothed in His righteousness, that overcomes what might appear to be selfish and infantile faith.

And we begin to share with others this glorious thing we’ve found.  A last thought, describing maturity in Christ:

1Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “Now God’s salvation has come! Now God has shown his power as King! Now his Messiah has shown his authority! For the one who stood before our God and accused believers day and night has been thrown out of heaven. 11 They won the victory over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the truth which they proclaimed; and they were willing to give up their lives and die.
Revelation 12:10-11 (TEV)

That, my friends, is a description of us, the mature believers who trusted in the God who comes to them –  not a bunch of selfish, infantile believers.

May Mark and Eddie and the rest of the seminarians that start this week be so formed… may our churches have the same attitude, may I as well.

Godspeed this day….

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